Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Out of step in wedding waltz

Ireland, for god’s sake. The “yes” vote for same-sex marriage ran at more than 60 per cent and in parts of Dublin it exceeded 70 per cent.

Where’s the Catholic Church when you need it? After losing the fight over the legalisation of abortion in 2013, the hardliners in the church have again dropped the ball. It’s about time some harder hardliners were installed – someone of the calibre of Tony Abbott, who has been holding back the popular tide of 64 per cent of hard-working Australians who support a change in the marriage law, which is a higher percentage than the overall “yes” vote in Ireland. Now he wants parliament to “own” the issue – but still the Liberal party room hasn’t decided how to handle its “conscience”.

According to Galaxy’s polling figures between 2009 and 2012, a majority of Christians (53 per cent) are in favour of same-sex people getting hitched, 76 per cent of Coalition votes support a conscience vote and 81 per cent of younger people want it to happen.

Since the trend in support has been consistently upwards, then it’s fair to say that supporters of change in Australia would by now be closer to 70 per cent.

It’s a significant achievement for a majority of federal parliamentarians, so far, to have held firm in the face of popular opinion, but it’s good to know that on vital issues principle can trump populism.

But Gadfly is aware of others, and it’s not only the diacritic-prone Tyler Brûlé, who grumble that we’ve become this frightful backwater at the arse-end of the globe. The Irish and New Zealanders have made us look as interesting as Paraguay, and we’re also wildly out of step with the majority of civilised countries on climate change and the treatment of asylum seekers.

It is probably natural to be in this unattractive position when our political leadership is so bog stupid. The latest showdown came with the tampons tax issue. Less than 24 hours after Jolly Joe Hockey Sticks thought that the GST should “probably” be removed from female sanitary items, the PM boldly stepped in and took command. Such an exemption would not happen on his watch.

We know Abbott has his women’s issues, but I’m sure he would want sanitary items fully taxed, even if he found tampons a necessity for himself.

Don’t mess with this man of iron.

1 . Citizenship cane

And what about cancelling people’s citizenship if they step out of line – another top idea from the captivating Peter Dutton?

The plan was that Dutto would have the power to make Australians stateless, all by himself – forget the courts of law or other busybodies.

Thank heavens a clutch of lefties in the cabinet were against the plan, including Kevvy Andrews, Bookshelves Brandis and Barnaby (Bowyang) Joyce. As a consequence it’s been watered down – only dual citizens will be stripped of Australian citizenship if they are terror “suspects”.

Bookshelves was reported to have told the cabinet: “I am the attorney-general. It is my job to stand for the
rule of law.”

Except that he was noticeably absent when the rule of law was being turned on its head in the David Hicks’ case. Actually, the Hicks’ case is pertinent in the context of the citizenship-stripping agenda, because while he was banged up in Guantanamo Bay, his dual citizenship became a vexed issue. Since the Australian government regarded him as among the worst of the worst, he sought to engage the Brits, who were more supportive of extracting their nationals from the clutches of the torturing Septics.

His mother was born in Britain and his granddad fought for the British in World War II. Moments after the courts ordered the home secretary to grant Hicks citizenship, it was taken away from him under special powers at the disposal of the British government.

Where was Bookshelves? Whatever plan the government has to tamper with citizenship, it is likely to end up before the High Court. One thing is certain: the appointment of Philip Ruddock and Connie Fierravanti-Wells to engage with radicals and other disaffected types is an inspired move. The PM said their job would be to lead “a conversation about responsibilities as well as rights of citizens about the duties as well as the privileges of citizenship”.

If anyone knows how to dish out soothing empathy it is Phil (Pacific Solution) Ruddock and Connie F-W, who for years has insisted new arrivals embrace Australian values, first of which on her list is “a belief in a free and competitive market system”.

2 . General ignorance

I, myself, was fully engaged last week by the appearance of Kim Williams on Radio National’s Ockham’s Razor.

The Harry Potter-like former News Corp boss had a thing or two to say about the arts, science and education, particularly the Gonski report’s “impressively argued recommendations” about strengthening and securing Australia’s future. You can scarcely believe that some of the shills under his command were leading the charge against Gonski.

Lord Moloch’s former satrap went on: “I think our society is increasingly governed by several sustained characteristics which are each profoundly unhelpful…”

He mentioned four “dangerous trends” – No. 3 being something to do with a poisonous media culture with “rigid ideological positions and populist or personal ranting” that disses the important roles of science and the arts.

Kim says this has resulted in a “triumph of general ignorance”. What on earth is he on about? Surely he’s not suggesting that News Corp hacks are peddling general ignorance.

If so, why didn’t he purge these “unhelpful” forces when he had suzerainty of Moloch’s local tissues, instead of spending time in the executive suite fiddling with his clarinet.

3 . Truth the Durst casualty

Each night Gadfly is wrapped in a blanket, goggle-eyed in front of the telly watching ever more gripping episodes of The Jinx.

This is the doco about Robert Durst, the cutoff heir to an eye-wateringly rich Manhattan property fortune.

Bob seems to have gone off the rails and is, or has been, the suspect in three murders, including that of his wife, his best friend and a neighbour.

To escape from himself he lived for a time in Galveston, Texas, as a woman.

It was here he was charged with the murder of another loose cannon, Morris Black. Not only did he kill Morris, but he chopped him into pieces, put the body parts into plastic bags and tossed them in the bay.

The murder trial was fascinating and there is much that our courts and lawyers can learn from American procedures.

Most striking, the jury and the judge can publicly give their two-bob’s worth about the trial and what happened in the jury room. Refreshingly transparent and a nice change from the solemn opaqueness of our system.

They acquitted Durst on the grounds of self-defence and accidental shooting, even though it seemed there was a good motive to do away with the victim.

Another appealing feature is the preparedness of United States attorneys to tell the world how they coached the accused and moulded his story line. Again, this is hidden territory here, but in the US they let it all hang out.

Robert paid $1.8 million to get two of the best criminal defence lawyers in Texas. One of them knew he was on strong ground because he said that in the Lone Star state “they hang you for stealing a horse, and let you go free for killing a man, because there has never been a horse that needed stealing”.

The prosecutor was puzzled, saying that self-defence and chopping up the body don’t usually go together.

Bob also had an interesting perspective on swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

He got the idea that didn’t disqualify him from omitting bits of truth that were uncomfortable.

In a telling moment, Durst was asked whether he deliberately shaved his eyebrows when he was on the lam. He replied: “How do you accidentally shave your eyebrows?”

4 . Trigger-happy Tim

Quote of the week, reported in Guardian Australia’s coverage of the crisis in Queensland’s Supreme Court as chief justice Tim Carmody says he will quit if the government does what he wants.

Prominent solicitor Bill Potts said that for Carmody to “use the megaphone of the media to make demands of the government, as conditions of his leaving judicial life, is akin to him putting a gun to his own head and saying, ‘One more move, the chief justice gets it.’ ”  


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 30, 2015 as "Gadfly: Out of step in wedding waltz".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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